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“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better,” Mr. Obama said. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. Our job is to reverse these tides.”

Citing the lowest unemployment rate since he took office and a rebounding housing market, Mr. Obama said this year “can be a breakthrough year for America.”

Sour public mood

Mr. Obama’s rosy forecast for the economy is in contrast with the mood of the public about the state of the recovery. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesdayfound that 68 percent of Americans believe they are not better off than when Mr. Obama became president.

In the survey, 39 percent said the country is in worse shape since Mr. Obama took office, and 63 percent said the country is on the wrong track.

The president’s move to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors, from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, was more of a political statement than an effort to jump-start the economy. Because the order applies only to future contracts, it would affect only a small portion of the estimated 2 million workers who fall under the definition of federal contractors, as opposed to the 21 million workers nationwide who would benefit from a full increase in the hourly wage.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, who opposes a minimum wage increase on the grounds that it would slow economic growth, criticized the executive action Tuesday.

“We’re just not going to sit here and let the president trample all over us,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “I have to remind him we do have a Constitution. And the Congress writes the laws, and the president’s job is to execute the laws faithfully. And if he tries to ignore this, he’s going to run into a brick wall.”

Use of executive initiatives is the latest White House effort to move ahead on Mr. Obama’s agenda without congressional action. The president has used his executive power for action on climate change and on immigration, preventing the deportations under certain conditions of young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally.

Flexing executive power is nothing new, and Mr. Obama hasn’t used his presidential pen as often as his predecessors. Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush signed 213 and 173 orders, respectively, in their first terms, compared with 147 for Mr. Obama. Democrat Bill Clinton issued 200 executive orders in his first term.

New White House counsel John Podesta, an advocate of executive authority, said Mr. Obama has “warmed up” to the idea.

“And I think you’ll see that across a wide range of topics, including retirement security, moving forward on his climate change and energy transformation agenda,” Mr. Podesta told NPR.

Frustrated by Republicans’ resistance to his agenda, Mr. Obama also has taken unilateral steps to try to improve the nation’s employment situation, including securing a pledge by a group of major corporations not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed in hiring decisions.

Mr. Obama convened CEOs from across the country this month in an effort to persuade them to take “a second look” at hiring the long-term unemployed, who have emerged as a particular sore spot in the sluggish job market.

Several companies signed a pledge with the White House, including Bank of America, Xerox, AT&T and Lockheed Martin, stating that they are “committed to inclusive hiring practices.”

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